Sunday, 20 March 2011

Speed bumps in the text

I usually edit each chapter with Autocrit as I finish it, but this has been a distracting year and I've missed a lot of them, so am currently putting the whole of Unofficial Girl through the Autocrit software. It's rather wearing, doing it all at once.

The main thing I need Autocrit for is my word echo problem; you'd think that as I'm aware of it I'd be able to deal with it, but I still miss some of the most obvious instances. It's brilliant for that. The other areas it focuses on are less useful, and some are counter-productive. For instance, on one occasion I used 36 adverbs instead of the 35 allowed, so EVERY adverb was in red, which is off-putting. And the software has recently changed, and become a lot pickier. I preferred its more laissez-faire version.

At this stage, I'm eliminating speed bumps in the text; anything that will trip a reader and remind him that he is reading a book. I'll be reading it aloud next. The aim is to make the prose as smooth as possible. This is something readers like, even if it's not consciously appreciated. Indeed, on YouWriteOn and Authonomy, I suspected there were those who marked down an easy read as somehow inferior to more taxing writing. They were deeply wrong.


  1. I believe that you are taking the right attitude with the vocal isation, we've been speaking for a hell of a lot longer than we've been reading. Both the ear and the brain still listen, even when you read silently. Those wanting more complex patterns are I also think wrong in their attitude, very few of use can do 80,000 words of prose. Anyway a good tale is a good tale. Speaking of that I'm up to the visit to James's mum still quite a good book, I particularly like the gritty rocking horse craft repairing details it does make the character much realistic and dare I say 3D. Anyway good luck on the rest of the editing. I'm now on the last chapter of what my Uber editor tells me is a novella rather than a short story.

  2. Novellas seem to be having a revival - they're rather popular as ebooks - which is nice, as a story is as long as it is. I've read books which I've thought were artificially stretched or padded to standard novel length.

  3. Haven't heard of Authocrit but am with you on the adverbs - that's one of my major failings too. Looking fwd to Unofficial Girl, as I loved the sample chapter.

    Congrats on the Hungary thing with Remix though - that sounds fantastic! When you get the new cover through you'll have to post a pic of it for us to look at...
    Have a good weekend;

  4. JAC, I'm usually okay with adverbs - though I do have a weakness for 'suddenly'...

    Remix won't be out in Hungary until eighteen months after I've signed the contract, and I haven't had it yet, so there will be a wait to see the cover. It's bound to be better than my efforts :o)

  5. Thanks for the autocrit link! I may have a gander - looks like a useful software to have.

    Good luck with reading your text aloud! I think writing something that a reader would read and forget that they were reading a book is something I try very hard to aspire to! It's kind of like studying literature especially at O and A level. We as a class were more aware that we were reading books that we had to study and write about and so the joy and pleasure of the words were lost on most of us! Take care

  6. You have a gander, Kitty? Does Charlie approve?

    I can remember the pain of 'reading round the class' - girls reading aloud, torturing a good book to death. I used to read on surreptitiously, then when it was my turn I'd lost the place and the teacher told me off.

  7. It sounds like a lot of work but the result is clear from Remix.

    I used to read ahead in class too. I really don't see what the value was meant to be of us all reading aloud and as you say "torturing" a piece of writing to death!

  8. Shakespeare was even more painful.

    I guess the value was...I've no idea, now I come to think of it. An easy if boring period for the teacher? Maybe they didn't trust us to read it on our own?

    All the current concern about getting children to read amuses me, as in my childhood adults were constantly trying to stop me reading.

  9. What an interesting piece of software! I didn't know this type of thing existed.

  10. As I'm always saying, my blog is an education :o)

  11. I have five chapters to go in exactly the same process. I've stopped worrying about a few words over autocrats advice, it's averages after all.

  12. Yeah, I have similar issues with Autocrit. It does have it's uses, but sometimes I think it takes away my voice.

    I'm working on eliminating my writing-speed bumps, too. It's hard!

  13. I've had a few short paragraphs with no coloured words, but don't attempt to make Autocrit entirely satisfied with my writing. I'm the boss, after all.

    I wonder what text that had no Autocrit issues would read like? Pretty odd, I imagine - unless anyone knows differently?

  14. Autocrit sounds a really useful piece of kit. But as others have said, your voice is unique and if that clashes with the program's recommendation, then its clear which should win!

    I'm almost expecting that some genius software engineer will soon come up with a program that will write an entire book, given some minimum input from the author. A few plot points, hooks, conflicts and perhaps a HEA. *lol*

    Do I hear a skeptical response?

    Not so long ago, people scoffed at the possibility that a chess program could win the world championship. They are not skeptical anymore! *grin*

    Massive computer power, coupled with advances in artificial intelligence may have many surprises in store for us.

    After one has spent a lot of time writing, editing, revising and polishing, the story warts and all can become a part of you so to speak.

    Reading it over then often misses the warts. In this case getting someone else to read it aloud can sometimes highlight remaining flaws.

    I find that text to speech software can be very useful in this regard. Nowadays I always proof read my manuscripts using the TextAloud program. There are some very natural sounding voices available and the computer no longer has to sound robotic.

    Fascinating (and educational!) blog Lexi *smile*

  15. I've never heard of autocrit but sounds like something worthy of an investment. You are right - it's difficult to make a novel feel like you're not reading. I bet that'd make a great audio book as well. I imagine you're talking about making it sound like a conversation - not the written word. I'm listening to a book like that right now - fantastic, no wonder why The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao received a Pulitzer. Best of luck with Unofficial Girl - I look forward to it's release.

  16. Oh, I think I'd throw my laptop out the window if I tried to use such a program. I have a beta reader who's great about noticing echoes, so I guess I'm good. I'd shoot anyone or anything that counted my adverbs. ;)

  17. Quantum, I've just spent five minutes sampling the TextAloud voices, and...they aren't very good, not the English English ones anyway. I think I prefer the Kindle voice. (They had terrible trouble with 'Pinot Grigio' in my sample - I think they must be teetotallers.)

    KJ, Autocrit is good for basics like word echoes - anything more subtle, you're on your own.

    Lindsay, I know how you feel. I don't understand anyone who leaves Word's grammar option on; it would drive me nuts.

  18. Lexi, I normally use the 'Heather' voice from Acapella.

    There will be problems with foreign or odd words at first. 'Pinot Grigio' is a hard test! I reckon I might need a couple of large scotches before trying that. LOL

    The pronunciation editor (including a phoneme editor) can usually sort these things out.

    It does need an investment of time to build up the dictionary though. I have been using it for years and have eliminated most problems that arise from my writing now, except homonyms.

    I use kindle for PC which doesn't have speech enabled. I also don't think there is a pronunciation editor with kindle which is a big drawback IMO.

  19. Q, that sounds like a lot of work. I think I'll stick to reading it aloud myself, until they perfect text to speech software.

  20. An extract from Sol Stein's book 'Stein on writing':
    Wilmer Stone read our stories to us in a monotone as if he were reading from the pages of a phone directory. What we learned with each stab of pain was that the words themselves and not the inflections supplied by the reader had to carry the emotion of the story.
    Today I still hear the metronome of Wilmer Stone’s voice, and counsel my students to have their drafts read to them by the friend who has the least talent for acting and is capable of reading words as if they had no meaning.

    I find that some computer voices are excellent for this purpose. Thinking for example of 'Kate' and 'Paul' from Neospeech.

    Lexi, if you should change your mind I would be happy to let you have some of my dictionaries to help you get started. *smile*

  21. Wilmer Stone sounds a pain.

    Surely one of the skills of a writer is, by means of word choice and punctuation, to make inevitable the way the words sound in the reader's mind? You are not going to convince me there is anything to be gained in divorcing words from their intended inflections in context.

    I don't think much of Sol Stein, either, judging by that quote. Plih.

  22. OK I give up on Text to Speech! *grin*

    Lexi, I think that's the point that Stein is trying to make!

    The emotion of the writing is in the words as heard in the listeners mind.
    A skilled reader will artificially correct for flaws through inflection and tone and even facial expression.

  23. I think we are back to 'reading round the class' - which is too painful to do anything except turn the listeners off.

    I doubt anyone would stay for three plus hours of Hamlet intoned expressionlessly - the audience wouldn't sit there thinking, "Wow, Shakespeare's words are really something!"

  24. I quite agree Lexi!

    However for the novel, all the reader has are the words on the page. When you proof read for yourself, you have all the emotion and associated imagery in your mind which can make it difficult to spot defects in the writing.

    To get rid of that associated imagery and try to 'see' and interpret the words as the reader does, you need someone to read it to you without adding drama or emotion or humor.

    At least I think so. LOL

  25. Changing the subject, Q, are you still on to beta read UG? If so, email me (see sidebar) and I'll send it to you.

  26. Just tried free Autocrit with the first 500 words of my latest (A Thousand Glass Flowers) that's about to go to publication. Not sure about it. Wondering if a re-edit after a decent break and then a vocalise might be better?
    I found it interesting that you used it to good effect but still felt that a read-aloud would smooth out the final bumps.
    I do feel I need a line-edit and hoped, courtesy of your ever informative blog, that this was my answer.

  27. Mesmered, I really have to have Autocrit for my word echoes - you probably don't need it. We all have different strengths and weaknesses.

    Good luck with publication of A Thousand Glass Flowers.

  28. Thanks Lexi... ditto with Unofficial Girl/Replica.

  29. Thanks Lexi... ditto with Unofficial Girl/Replica.

  30. Have just seen on your blog that Unofficial Girl is finished and out!!! Brilliant! I'm so thrilled. Can't wait to read it.
    I also use Autocrit, and find it very helpful. Certainly throws up various anomalies in one's writing. And as you mention it does help to make the prose as smooth as possible.

  31. Jan, I've just rescued your comment from the spam bin - sorry about that.

    You're right; the smoother the prose, the less between the reader and the story.